Our Journey to Transforming Female Deputy Mayors of Nepal!

By Rachana Khatri

When I first heard about Nepal Communitere designing and running a leadership coaching program for female deputy mayors of Nepal, I was super curious and excited more so, to be a part of it! Having been through the coaching process myself in 2018, I could visualize the difference coaching could make in one’s life and career so I jumped at the opportunity to work closely with Deputy Mayors on this project. Nepal turned into a federal state and with the 2017 election, the constitution reserved a quota for females to lead as either Mayor or Deputy Mayor position in the local government structure. However, with this provision, came a big need to strengthen the capacity of these newly elected local female leaders who were chosen to fulfill this role, lacking any significant support from the government. We at Nepal Communitere in partnership with The Asia Foundation (TAF) and WomenLEAD Nepal decided to roll out this pilot coaching program for female Deputy Mayors to fill and bridge this critical gap for these leaders. The sole purpose of this project was to see the impact and possible support that coaching could provide to these female leaders, to complement existing training and workshops they were already attending. On other hand, we were curious to see if a coaching approach for government and political level leaders would really benefit Nepal today and in the future. We successfully won the South Asia Small Grants Program of The Asia Foundation for our concept in September 2021 and we partnered with WomenLEAD Nepal to co-design and launch the first-ever leadership coaching program for female deputy mayors in March 2021! 

Deputy Mayors Bimala Sharma and Basanti Dangol completing a baseline survey at Nepal Communitere before their group coaching session

Before the launch of the coaching program, we used design-thinking research to understand the existing capacity as well as needs of both urban and rural Deputy Mayors in Province 3. Though the concept of coaching is still new in Nepal, executive coaching is being explored in the private and development sectors here. However, this being the first-ever introduction of such a program at the government level, we at Nepal Communitere were curious to observe the need and impact of coaching for these leaders. I (Rachana) and Kabita Tamang (Program Officer) from WomenLEAD Nepal, reached out to many municipalities in Province 3: meeting and talking to Deputy Mayors across Province 3. With over ten in-depth interviews and talking to more than 70 Deputy Mayors from across different municipalities in Province 3, we designed and launched a 6-month coaching program in March 2021 with a  team of six coaches. 

It was a rich learning process as well as inspiring to hear the life stories of these amazing women leaders during our interviews. They shared setbacks they face as women, on a family, social, and government level in becoming and fulfilling their role as Deputy Mayors. They are capable, experienced, and dedicated women yet something was holding them back from truly unleashing their true leadership potential. “Although we are provided with these rights and powers in the constitution, we feel our hands are tied. It is challenging every day to perform and fulfill this position and truly execute our rights being a ‘female’ and a Deputy Mayor. Many times our voices are unheard, uncounted, unappreciated and we feel stuck although we have the resources. ” Many of them said.

As we were designing the program, we knew the possible challenges that lie ahead especially with COVID-19 risks and travel limitations. We had to shift from an in-person to a hybrid (virtual + in-person) coaching method following the second wave in March. Many Deputy Mayors were also juggling their municipality work so taking time for coaching especially during the change of fiscal year in Shrawan was challenging. We had to extend the coaching program timeline and make many logistical adaptations. However, it was amazing to witness the commitment and dedication of Deputy Mayors, coaches, and the program team towards coaching. We would be engaged in coaching sessions sometimes as early morning as 6 am to sometimes late evening up to 8.30 pm! 17 deputy mayors from various districts like Nuwakot, Dhading, Makwanpur, Kavre, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur continued and completed their coaching sessions with respective coaches through this dynamic hybrid manner. Similarly, we organized two group coaching sessions with experts on ‘Budgeting and Financing’ and managing the ‘Judiciary Committee’. During the program midline interviews, they shared their honest feedback of the impact coaching had on them. 

“My coach became a medium for me to become resourceful and feel confident. The program enabled me to leverage the qualities, skills, and capacity that I had within myself and give it direction. I started finding more opportunities within and for myself. I’m now also writing a book about my experience and journey as Deputy Mayor in near future.”

Anju Acharya, Deputy Mayor, Dupchesworm Rural Municipality

“I transformed from a problem-focused to now solution-oriented person with the coaching sessions. Coaching made me un-stuck and increased my confidence and I felt more motivated than ever before at the municipality. At first, I always wanted my coach to answer my questions for me but I understood that a coach actually drives you towards your own solutions. अाफनो समस्याको समाधान अाफैसंग रहेछ र कोचले मलाइ समाधानसम्म पुग्न मद्दत गर्नुभयो ।  Moreso, I had excellent bonding with my coach Nabila and now also a lifetime friend, that I feel I can reach out to her whenever I feel stuck in life.” 

(Srijana Tamang, Deputy Mayor of Jugal Rural Municipality with coach Nabila Banu at her right)
Bimala Sharma (Blue Saree) with coach Mamta Gurung at her right

“As we were going through coaching sessions, I was reflecting and was becoming more clear on my goals. I knew where my roots are, my capacities, and my work. The coaching session helped me figure out my areas of improvement. The group coaching sessions with other Deputy Mayors and the legal expert, Sunita ma’am, were very helpful both personally and professionally. I would want more activities and sessions with my coach further.”

Bimala Sharma (Blue Saree), Deputy Mayor of Dhulikhel Municipality
Shanti Lama (DM of Meghang Mun) and Urmila Tamang (DM of Netrawati Damjong Mun) with coach Madhurima Bhadra

The process was highly iterative and adaptive given the numerous challenges that came our way but TAF was equally supportive allowing us to incorporate learnings through this pilot program. Many Deputy Mayors were from very rural areas where there was no mobile network and data for almost a week or so! Despite so many delays and challenges, they still were committed to meet for coaching sessions. As we moved along the program team, coaches, and Deputy Mayors all developed a bond and understanding of time and methods that would work best for all of us, which led to the successful completion of the coaching program in August 2021. Yet, many Deputy Mayors still want to continue their strong bond and coaching relationship with their coaches and are recommending the program for future Deputy Mayors at the start of their tenure. We are now super excited to host a community networking event to bring together this group of Deputy Mayors who have been through coaching to share and celebrate their journey of transformation in November 2021 so stay tuned for more information on this upcoming event!

Some coaching pictures of coaches and coaches

Basanti Dangol (DM of Dakshinkali Municipality with Coach Vani Rana)
Nirmala Himdung (Deputy Mayor of Raksirang Rural Municipality with coach Bhuwan Sharma)